REVIEW: Ingrid and Christine Jensen with Ben Monder Infinitude Quintet at Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham

Ingrid Jensen, Fraser Hollins, Christine Jensen, John Wikan and Ben Monder at the Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham
Photo credit: Alison Bentley

Ingrid and Christine Jensen with Ben Monder Infinitude Quintet
(Eastside Jazz Club, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, 2 Nov 2017. Review by Alison Bentley)

Two jazz firsts? A new, dedicated jazz club deep in the heart of a British music college- and frontline sisters, Canadian saxophonist Christine and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Brothers are few enough in number, (Brecker, Marsalis, Adderly…) but sisters?

Thursday nights are set aside for visiting guests at the new 80-seat club, which opened just a month ago, and this band was a coup for the Conservatoire. Other nights are given over to big bands and different kinds of jazz. Saturday nights are open for the local community to get involved. Like a scaled-down Ronnie’s, the club has different levels with chairs around tables. You could wander in and out to get food and drinks without disturbing the concentration of those on the front row. The bright acoustic softened as more, mostly young, people came in, focusing intently.

The band is in Europe touring music from their new Whirlwind album Infinitude. Most compositions are by the sisters, and Christine has described the music as collaborative: "How are we all going to dive into this pool and swim together?"

The atmosphere was warm and relaxed, led by two people who have literally spent a lifetime playing together. (Their mother was a piano teacher and jazz was a big part of their early lives.) Ingrid opened Blue Yonder with tiny panpipes, leading into circling Kenny Wheeler-esque chords (both sisters have been influenced him.) New Yorker Ben Monder brought a rocky, slightly distorted guitar sound to the gentle harmonies, the way John Abercrombie could to Wheeler’s music. Swirlaround had strutting guitar and bass riffs (Canadian Fraser Hollins) and a big band feel, with its layered textures and unfolding themes - melancholy and uplifting. Ingrid looped and harmonised with her own throaty sound in Dots and Braids - a layered, intensely personal sound. Christine’s arpeggios blew upwards like leaves on the breeze, or the surging of Jon Wikan’s drums. In Octofolk the more angular guitar phrases seemed to influence Christine’s sax as they traded 16s; their leisurely conversation became intensely urgent as the tempo doubled and the phrases shortened. The strong-toned bass solo negotiated the ever-rising circle of chords.

In the second set, Ingrid described her New York garden, ("crappier lawns and a better life") where she dug up her lawn and ‘"a bunch of seeds in it". It seemed a good description of the way the music was stirred up and notes tossed in - sometimes rocked-out; sometimes gentle and relaxed. Ingrid’s solos, with their warm Hubbard-y tone, seemed to say decisively and brilliantly what she wanted to say. Christine’s Shorter-esque sounds seemed - not tentative - but slower-burning and exploratory. Thoughtful phrases dissolved into scribbled phrases in between.

Monder had all the rock virtuosity of Steve Vai, but allied to jazz harmony; speedy tessellated phrases seemed to curl in on themselves in mesmerising complexity. His rhythmic fingerpicking in his latin Echolalia, recalled some of his work on Bowie’s Blackstar album, the melody like a wordless song. Margareta was freer, drifting with musical streams of consciousness; the trumpet solo was full of fast chromatic runs, punctuated with strong notes like fists punched in the air. The dynamics were dramatic and completely engaging. Local hero (and Conservatoire tutor) Percy Pursglove joined them on flugel for a New Orleans groove, melded with rock and electric soundscapes - there were times where the guitar and trumpet’s jazz-rock wild abstractions were indistinguishable from each other.

As Ingrid has put it: "We already have this flow which continues as we perform together – we can find space, and craziness, and find our way in and out of it, as well." A rare and special evening in a new club that promises great things to come.

Next at Eastside: Gilad Hekselman Trio with Mark Turner, 16 November (7.45pm, Student support band 6.30pm)

LINK: Review of the Jensen sisters with Ben Monder at the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire event calender including the Full Eastside Jazz Club programme

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